I have to admit that even though "Second Hand News" is a great way to kick off a night of what was clearly going to be hit after hit of A+, No. 1, solid-gold Fleetwood Mac tunes, hearing Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks sing the first few measures put a little stone in my throat. Lindsey sounded ragged and rough: Did he give too much to Madison Square Garden the night before? Perhaps over-carousing? Does Lindsey deign to carouse? And Stevie, oh Stevie, the top range of her uniquely fluid yet meaty voice clipped. It was almost too hoarse and monotonic.
Enthusiasm prevailed, however. Lindsey yelling, "GO GO GO" and stomping while John McVie, safe under his cap aside Mick Fleetwood's golden kit complete with gigantic chime rack and head-framing gong, appeared to be doing his John McVie thing, which is not asking for any of the spotlight, only undergirding the whole band since time immemorial.
"The Chain" sent people into a frenzy, inasmuch as people trapped in seats can frenzy. Buckingham absolutely screamed. Chimes came into the picture in a major way. "The Chain" is something that Fleetwood Mac vowed never to break, and the song's unbreakable burliness felt intact as it echoed throughout the room. Lindsey hollered "RUN RUN RUN RUN," somehow becoming less hoarse in the process.
By "Dreams," the batwing shirt-ed, fedora'd Stevies in the audience were out of their seat and twirling, with Nicks, on stage, clapping her hands against her wrists in an oddly muppety fashion. "OK," we said to ourselves, "it seems that she has lost some of her range, but who cares?" She's got it where it counts and the backup singers are picking up the slack.
Waves of misty, lightshow light caressed the audience; waves of hulking classic rock slowjams rumbled through everyone's personal memory bank. "Dreams" provided an in-the-zone moment: The point being that Mick Fleetwood is an animal behind the kit, to extend that metaphorical muppetiness a bit further, and he is mugging and slinging and sounds gigantic, which is what you want from the human epicenter of persistent mutation that is Fleetwood Mac.
Buckingham introduced the gentle rocker "Sad Angel" by noting, almost apologetically, that it was "the best stuff we've done in a long time " and then put the entire audience to the test by actually playing it. When Lindsey Buckingham says "a long time", how long is he talking about? Can someone please fact-check the last time Fleetwood Mac wrote a song? Buckingham's been spraying the world with solo tunes for ever, and apparently "Sad Angel" was written over a year ago but will be released "any day now" he promised, as part of an EP. EP! (Dear Fleetwood Mac, we want outtakes. We will listen to anything. Why restrict it to an EP?)
Here's the rub: "Sad Angel" was not that bad, actually. It provided a good beer break for many audience members and brought some undue attention to the LED wingding display modules at the corner of the stage. The background images appeared to be an Ed Hardy shirt eating itself whole; in the words of my companion, the stage design looked "like a JC Penney commercial." The song itself struck a note somewhere between the more exciting elements of "Mirage" and Buckingham's solo jam "Red Rover": A little treacly but with enough choral kick to give it the necessary oomph.
Out of nowhere, the stagecraft went from incongruous to blinding. A blast of white light, a visual approximation of "Rhiannon" probably cribbed from deviantart.com, and the band launched into "Rhiannon." Nicks hoisted sparkling beads in her sparkle-draped, fingerless-gloved hands and changed the vocal melody so that she wouldn't have to hit the high notes. The work of the backup singers was most evident here, especially during one point in which it appeared that Madam Nicks was simply mouthing the word "Rhiannon." I don't want to say the experience was disappointing because "Rhiannon" is, at this point, a song you hear while shopping for aspirin and thus drilled into your head as having to exist a certain way. The essential components of the song were present and generally satisfactory. B+, would hear while price-comparing Band-aids again.
The great thing about Fleetwood Mac is that for every "Rhiannon" there is a "Not That Funny." Buckingham introduced a tight block of "Tusk" hits by saying, "I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Warner Brothers first played that album in the boardroom because it was not what they expected and really not what they wanted."
"Not That Funny" had him thrashing and howling, at his most punk of the evening yet. "Tusk" itself merited cackles of laughter from Buckingham and tons of chimes, the backdrop exploding in CGI mirror-jungle fury, the whole group chugging and lurching into that majestic marching-band crescendo. Oh yeah, there was no marching band.
(Of course, Fleetwood Mac is not going to bring an entire marching band on tour just for one section of one song. The sample that was used sounded fantastic enough that seeing images of a marching band was enough to allow the imagination to not be stressed out by the fact that, at a point when one could finally have seen a live marching band play one of the most unusual segments of one of the band's most unusual songs, the experience was fully subverted by the sheer pleasure of seeing the band at all. The fact is that "Tusk" sounded huge, and when Nicks returned to the stage for "Sisters of the Moon" she sounded huge again too.)
I don't know what Nicks did when she stepped away from the spotlight after "Rhiannon," but "Sisters of the Moon" and "Sara" were both a giant middle-finger-in-fingerless-gloves to the haters. The sustain, the warble, the fullness of her unique method were all in evidence, and it seemed almost as if the first half of the set was just a warm-up. Stevie was back, haters. And then, just as suddenly as she came, she was gone again.
Probably at this point many Fleetwood Mac fans have experienced Buckingham's acoustic version of "Big Love" and were thinking, "Oh, this again," and to those people I say nothing because they likely do not exist. Hearing "Big Love" on an acoustic guitar is like being caught in a frantic bug-zapper of treble and pain. Even when Nicks came back out for a truly sweet rendition of "Landslide" that she tenderly dedicated to her "fairy god-daughters" while misty sparkles floated in the air, I found myself trying to go back in time several minutes and re-live the feeling of being electrocuted in my seat.
After a satisfyingly raw acoustic version of "Never Going Back Again," Mick joined Buckingham and Nicks for a song that Stevie herself only rediscovered on, in her words, "you guessed it — YouTube!" "Without You" found Mick on a confounding drum setup: Cocktail roto-toms? Mini stand-up kit? Whatever. Even Buckingham and Nicks can't remember when they wrote "Without You," and it was a nice present for the heads. I was in the head when "Gypsy" went down, but my companion told me that there was quite a bit of twirling from Nicks, and what little I could make out through the cinderblock panopticon that is the Verizon Center sounded like it was probably good fun.
"Eyes of the World," from the act's "Mirage" album, was brisk, frisky and accompanied by probably the most visually disturbing imagery of the evening. Every time the chorus of "Eyes!" punched in, an eyeball zoomed through the backdrop, green or brown, making it difficult to concentrate on what is an interesting late-career gem. Eyes! When the chime rack returned for "Gold Dust Woman" it was something of a relief. Nicks returned in a gold shawl to haunt Mick's cowbell-playing wizard face, pointing fingers at all the ancient queens to her left and right. A few lighters went up in the crowd, a few smartphones for lighters-by-proxy.
What company did Fleetwood Mac commission to make it look like they were being toasted alive during "I'm So Afraid"? I would like to work for anyone who can cause Fleetwood Mac to be aggressively cooked under red-hot Maxi Pads(TM) as steamy, smoky tendrils creep through the background. Thankfully the heating devices receded and it was Jumbotron Lindseyvision for the evening's money-shot guitar solo, in which his completely bizarre fingerwork was on display for all to behold.
After a smoking-hot version of "Stand Back" from Nicks' solo repertoire and "Go Your Own Way," the band said goodnight. Or did they? They did not!
Encore No. 1: Mick Fleetwood emerged from the sidelines wearing jaunty knickers and trademark gold balls dangling from his belt for "World Turning," giving an extensive drum solo in which he yelled, "Come on baby! Are you with me?" The good news is that everyone in the audience was with him. The weird news is that he split up with his wife three hours earlier. Buckingham sat on the side of the stage with his legs crossed at the ankles, as if he was on the lawn at the Hollywood Bowl, gazing up at his googly-eyed friend, the lynchpin of the idea of a band that is Fleetwood Mac.
Encores Nos. 2-4 slid down a hill of strange melancholy. From "Don't Stop" to "Silver Spring," it felt as if the band was slowly letting go of the audience, getting them ready for the outside world again. With the utterly sad and beautiful "Say Goodbye" the crowd filtered out, stunned. Nicks told those who remained that they were "the dream-makers, the dream-catchers." Mick's last words for the audience, a giant hug from a giant man in a little red top hat, were "Take care of yourself. Be kind to one another. We love you so."
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Lexie Mountain, nee Lexie Macchi, is a Baltimore-based musician and artist. She last reviewed Van Halen for Midnight Sun. Wesley Case edited this review.